European Parliament held public hearing on cultural heritage

The Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament held a public hearing on ‘An integrated approach to cultural heritage in Europe: state of play and perspectives’ in Brussels on the morning of 2 December 2014. The meeting focused on the challenges faced and the steps to be taken in order to tap into the potential of cultural heritage for social progress and sustainable economic development. Parliamentarians, members of other European institutions, and experts and representatives from the cultural and heritage fields, including delegates from Europa Nostra and Future for Religious Heritage, attended the event.

Public hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on 2 December. Photo: Europa Nostra

Public hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on 2 December. Photo: Europa Nostra

The thematic presentations made by experts set the stage for the discussion with the members of the Committee on Culture and Education. Bénédicte Selfslagh, Deputy Chair of Belgium Committee ICOMOS, spoke about the challenges and opportunities for cultural heritage and the role of Member States, European institutions and international organisations. Aled Gruffyd Jones, Librarian of the National Library of Wales, explored the topic of documentary heritage. Jacek Purchla, Director of the International Cultural Centre in Krakow and Council Member of Europa Nostra, highlighted the role of cities and the value of the historic urban landscape. Sergiu Nistor, Professor at the University of Architecture and Urbanism of Bucharest, addressed the need for new models of participatory governance.

“It would be great if our cultural heritage experts could also be listened to by Ministers of Finance, or even Prime-Ministers, then maybe the overall result would be much more effective. It is very important to make sure that such voices are also heard in circles not related to culture and which often disregard culture,” advocated Bogdan Andrzej Zdrojewski, an MEP from Poland. This position was endorsed by other MEPs and participants in the meeting.

Several parliamentarians expressed their support for the proposal of organising a European Year of Cultural Heritage, which was made by the EU Council to the European Commission in their Conclusions on participatory governance of cultural heritage adopted on 25 November 2014.

“A European Year of Cultural Heritage is urgently needed. This initiative would help raise awareness of cultural heritage among a wider public and would help identify new means and resources to find the huge funds needed to protect cultural heritage at all levels. The European Year of Cultural Heritage should put the spotlight not only on built heritage but also on the digitalization of films and written documents and on intangible cultural heritage. The Committee on Culture would do well to support this idea and to look for ways to put it into practice,” stated Petra Kammerevert, an MEP from Germany.

“We really need better cooperation between the different levels – European, national, regional, and local – and we need to combine them with the private sector and civil society movements. Only when all these stakeholders are politically and financially engaged will we find a solution to protect and promote cultural heritage. From this point of view, to have a European Year of Cultural Heritage would be a great advantage,” added Helga Trüpel, a German MEP.

Emmanouil Glezos, an MEP from Greece, stressed the need to encourage Europe’s small towns and villages to preserve their heritage and use it as an important resource for sustainable development. “For example, the mountain village of Apeiranthos, on the island of Náxos, with its 1,200 inhabitants, has 3 libraries and 5 museums, and 3 more are being built. This is due to the strong commitment of the local community to their heritage. I propose that a historic village that is considered important in a European country should be declared a “heritage village” with a special programme for the protection and promotion of this heritage.” Europa Nostra, which is developing a new programme dedicated to Europe’s small towns, villages and landscapes called ‘ENtopia: Our Places in Europe’, was particularly pleased to hear about this idea and looks forward to discussing with the European Parliament ways in which EU institutions could support the ENtopia programme.

Rosanna Binacchi, Head of Unit in the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism, highlighted the significant contribution of the Italian Presidency of the EU Council in developing a strategic approach to cultural heritage at the European level. “We have placed cultural heritage at the centre of our action and our work. We did this in a spirit of continuity with the previous Presidencies and will continue to do so in collaboration with the future presidencies of the EU Council,” she stated.

Rosanna Binacchi presented the Conclusions on participatory governance of cultural heritage and the Conclusions establishing a new Work Plan for Culture(2015-2018), in which cultural heritage is set as a priority, both adopted by the EU Council under the leadership of the Italian Presidency in Brussels on 25 November 2014.

She also mentioned the two major conferences on cultural heritage and culture and tourism hosted by the Italian Presidency in Turin and Naples, on 23-24 September and 30-31 October 2014, respectively.

“Cultural tourism in Europe accounts for approximately 40% of world tourism. Europe is a cultural tourism destination par excellence and must continue to be so, while promoting and conserving its cultural heritage. This means providing incentives for sustainable tourism policies that take into consideration the demands and needs of local communities as well as the opportunities provided. For us and for the EU Council, this is a positive, constructive form of synergy that deserves to be promoted. This is, therefore, a natural priority to focus on,” stressed Rosanna Binacchi.

“We are experiencing a historic moment, with the revision of the Europe 2020 strategy. Culture and cultural heritage cannot stay outside of this strategy for the growth of Europe. There are actors and interpreters in this framework,” she advocated.

Catherine Magnant, Deputy Head of Unit in the DG EAC of the European Commission, congratulated the EU Council on the adoption of the Conclusions on participatory governance for cultural heritage. “The Commission is committed to encouraging the Member States to engage in the coordination for its implementation,” she stated.

“Cultural heritage has a significant social and economic value, which is not easy to quantify. We all need to make some progress on that front. We look forward to learning about the final results of the European project Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe, which is financed by the Culture programme and led by Europa Nostra. It already has some concrete findings, particularly in the area of cultural tourism,” added the Deputy Head of Unit in the DG EAC of the European Commission.

“Digitization is another field in which we need to be more active. Great projects at regional, national and European levels have been carried out, allowing us to digitize 33 million cultural items. However, only a fraction of European collections are available in digital form, around 12% in terms of library heritage and a different percentage for other types of documents,” she noted.

Europa Nostra, also acting on behalf of other members of the European Heritage Alliance 3.3, welcomed this important initiative undertaken by the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament. Europa Nostra was represented at this public hearing by its Secretary General Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, its Board Members Piet Jaspaert and Astrid Weij, and its European Affairs Officer, Louise van Rijckevorsel.

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